Book Reviews : Poverty, Persuasion and the Pinnacle of the tallest building in London.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve read widely, weirdly and exploring the world of post war America ‘On the Road’, an obsession with ‘Glass’ and learning about why people say ‘Yes!’

So, without further ado, let me tell you about the books I’ve read recently, and my 5th, 6th and 7th books which make up my ’50 books in 2016′ challenge…

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On the Road – The Original Scroll (5)

by Jack Kerouac

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In the spring of 1951, Jack Kerouac wrote “On the Road”. The original version was on one continuous piece of paper. A scroll containing the first version of the story without paragraphs and spaces. An unstoppable continuous literary journey through the highways and byways of post war America often in relative poverty.

The original scroll was autobiographical.

It described Kerouac’s trips from East, West and eventually down South into Mexico. Sometimes he traveled alone but often ‘on the road’ described the adventures with his ‘brother’ Neal Cassady.

The original book wasn’t published until 1957 where instead of using the real names protagonists within the original scroll pseudonyms were used and (apparently) many of the more explicit bits of the original text were removed.

In 2007 a book containing the original scroll was published. This is the version I’ve just finished.

There’s probably very little I can say about ‘on the road’ which hasn’t been said before. It’s been analysed from front to back many times by people with a greater understanding of literature than I’ll ever have.

However if you’ll indulge me I’ll tell you a little bit about why I found this book such a compelling read…

Firstly it’s romantic

Kerouac has an incredible way with words. He describes places, people and ‘the road’ itself in such a way you often feel part of their journey.

You see “On the road” for me is a love story.

It’s about a love for adventure. A love for Jack’s companions on his adventures. A love for the road which takes them there.

A love for today without a care for tomorrow. A love for beautiful music and amazing vistas. A love for life.

However life ‘On the road’ isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be…

Because the second thing which springs to mind about ‘On the road’ is how honest it feels.

Whilst much of Jack and Neals adventures are romanticised the book also explores how often tough life was living the lifestyle they’d chosen.

There’s danger, violence and whilst there are occasions where being ‘on the road’ sounds romantic there’s also a few times where it just seems frustrating and monotonous (especially for me in the elements where Jack found himself travelling alone).

Also it’s interesting to see how the lifestyle Jack and Neal had chosen impact their lives.

In the book relationships are built and broken in the blink of an eye, trust occurs today and is lost tomorrow and the sense of sexual freedom Jack and Neal enjoy throughout the road is often counterbalanced with a sense of loneliness and longing.

Also, when you start to understand a bit more about Jack Kerouac’s and Neal Cassidy’s actual stories, and specifically the way they died, you can see how the years of drinking and drugs undoubtedly contributed to their relatively early deaths with Kerouac dying at 47 and Neal at 41.

Although as a counterbalance William Borroughs (Heroin addict, author of ‘Naked Lunch’ and who is prominently featured in ‘on the road’) lived until he was 83!

Also the version I read (the original scrolls) retained it’s graphic language and descriptions (apparently the published novel as well as changing the names was ‘toned down’) which for me and on this occasion feels right.

In some books I’ve read swearing and sexual descriptions don’t add anything to the story….However in ‘on the road’ it’s different. You see ‘on the road’ is about freedom both in sexuality and language and reading the explicit version felt appropriate.

It’s easy to see why ‘on the road’ is described as a classic.

It’s fantastically written, describes a world we can identify with but also feels a million miles away and makes you consider life from a different perspective.

On the down side (and this is based on the version I’ve read, the published novel may be different) the nature of the book (No chapters. No paragraphs. Just a seemingly never ending ‘road of words’) sometimes makes it difficult to keep track of the story…

However it’s a book which if you haven’t read it yet it’s absolutely worth picking up…

Let’s now consider a book which couldn’t be much more different if it tried…

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Yes – 50 scientifically proven ways to be persuasive (6)

by Noah J Goldstein, Steve J Martin & Robert B Cialdini

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One of my all time favourite books…smart, funny, full of insight, massively useful and where the findings are based on science instead of conjecture is…

Influence by Robert B Cialdini

It’s so good it not only made a recent ‘top list’ of the books I reckon you should read (you can find the full list here) it’s also been instrumental in helping us make some decent decisions when it came to running our business.

Therefore when I noticed that Dr Cialdini had co written another book describing techniques which potentially help us learn how to be more persuasive it was pretty quickly added to ‘the list’.

I know that I could always do with learning more about becoming more persuasive and I know there are many of us (including me) who could do with learning scientific techniques to become more persuasive both in business, as individuals and in our lives.

After all…I reckon if I just had a couple of useful techniques on how to persuade my children more effectively (one of the greatest challenges of any parents life!) the time spent reading “Yes!” would certainly be worthwhile.

With this in mind, “Yes! – 50 scientifically proven ways to be persuasive” does deliver.

It’s full of useful ideas backed up by academic research and also validated by loads of ‘real life’ practical examples.

My particular favourites include how “rhyming” can make statements more convincing, how restricting choice can help people buy and how restricting access to a product or service often makes it far more attractive.

There’s also plenty of great examples which explores how Persuasion applies to Wine lists, Car sales and Baseball.

The book is snappily written and each of the 50 ‘tips’ are only assigned a few pages each. This means that each method and it’s practical application are concisely described.

The book ends with a description of how unethical use of persuasion techniques and why ethical behaviour is always not only right but also the most sensible thing to do.

You see there is an argument which equates persuasion and influence with manipulation. The reality is that the difference we use…

For me we’re persuaded every hour of our lives.

However the right thing to do is to understand how we’re persuaded and potentially use some of these techniques to, if we’re in business, provide a better service to our clients, improve both our professional and personal relationships and spend more time doing what’s important.

So, Yes is a useful book however it’s worth mentioning one important thing. I enjoyed it so much because I’ve over the last few years I’ve had a growing and developing interest in social psychology.

Often and whilst hugely useful as a stand along book, “Yes!” feels a bit like a reminder of some of the best books in this genre and I’d suggest that if you’re interested in this subject you also take a look Cialdini’s “Influence” and Richard Thalers “Nudge”.

However this is a minor criticism of what is a worthwhile read.

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Glass (7)

Alex Christofi

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There’s plenty of things in London which make me proud.

A city with something to offer us all. A city which is among the greatest places in the world to experience all life has to offer. A city which like most of the best cities of the world is in a constant state of evolution….including it’s skyline.

You see one of the things I love about London is the buildings.

You see when it comes to architecture London has it all. Traditional, modern, functional, elaborate, small, short…..and very very tall.

In fact the tallest building in London as well as the tallest building in the EU is….

The Shard

I like the Shard.

However Love or loath it’s quickly turned into a modern architectural highlight in the London skyline…and the setting for the finale of Alex Christofi’s debut novel, ‘Glass’

However ‘Glass’ isn’t about the Shard, or Portsmouth’s spinnaker tower, or Salisbury Cathedral (all of which are featured in the book) it’s about one man.

A man called Gunther.

Gunther Glass.

In the book you follow Gunther’s journey from a self confessed ‘mummy’s boy’ all the way through to briefly being the crowned prince of the window cleaners with a bunch of adventures along the way which included bizarre flatmates, a racist boss, fire, wind (but strangely not that much earth!) and a journey through both businesslike and bohemian London.

‘Glass’ is a good book and a strong debut. It’s well observed, funny and has hugely flawed but also immensely likable characters which make this book as readable as it is.

It’s also got some nice touches.

My own personal favourite, and I suspect it may come from the fact that Alex shares my love of Wikipedia, was when odd facts were inserted throughout. My own personal favourite being the ‘interrobang” (look it up!)

However whilst I enjoyed the book there were a couple of things which meant I liked it but didn’t love it.

Firstly, some of the characters felt too much like caricature’s to be too engaged in the story.

and

Secondly it seemed to end both abruptly and prematurely.

Both of these things may have been intentional and the latter may be testament to how much I was enjoying the book up to that point however I finished reading thinking about how much the book could have been and had to say…

However that’s not taking away from the fact that Alex Christofi has written a debut novel which entertained, made me chuckly and left me wanting more…

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So, that’s this set of book reviews done….I’ll see you next time! 

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